TORONTO — Once again, the Maple Leafs’ Phil Kessel came back to haunt his former team in this series. The former Bruins forward scored what turned out to be the winning goal at 8:59 of the third period when he backhanded in a rebound past goaltender Tuukka Rask.
It gave Toronto a 2-0 lead on the way to a 2-1 win Sunday night that forced a Game 7 Monday night in Boston. It was Kessel’s third goal of the series.
“The puck popped out to me,’’ said Kessel. “[Nazem Kadri] won a big draw [against Patrice Bergeron] and we got it through. [James van Riemsdyk] was battling at the net and it just popped to me.’’
When asked if it was the biggest goal of his career, Kessel said, “That was a big one, it put us up, 2-0, and we held on.’’
Although Kessel didn’t want to discuss it, his teammates certainly heard the chants of, “Thank you, Seguin,’’ from the crowd as a retort to the “Thank you, Kessel,’’ chants from Boston fans that reference the trade.
“It was a little bit funny, obviously,’’ said van Riemsdyk. “Phil’s gotten, I’m sure, some heat over the years in Boston. He’s a great player, he’s been one of the top scorers in the league over his time in Toronto and we love having him on our team so we’re happy he’s here and he’s done a great job in the playoffs.’’
When asked if scoring against the Bruins after a long drought finally got the monkey off Kessel’s back, van Riemsdyk said he wasn’t sure.
“That’s probably a question he can answer best,’’ he said. “Obviously, he stuck with it and the playoffs is the toughest time of the year to score goals and he’s had a ton of chances out there. He’s on the top of his game and he’s playing probably as well now as he has all season. We’re obviously going to need him to play his best game of the year [Monday].’’
After Game 5, the Maple Leafs were saying how much they couldn’t wait to get back to the Air Canada Centre to play in front of their fans.
Wanting to play in front of the home crowd hasn’t always brought benefits, though. When Randy Carlyle took over behind the Leafs bench, he said playing at home was sometimes a negative.
“In the early stages of my tenure here, I felt that our team was paralyzed at home,’’ Carlyle said before his team’s victory Sunday night. “We didn’t play anywhere near as confident or we weren’t as relaxed or we weren’t a lot of things. But I think that’s changed. I think it’s changed dramatically.
“Are there speed bumps along the way that we look like we’re not in the hockey game from some aspects of poor decisions to puck management? I think every team goes through that.
“I think with our market and the understanding of how we have to play, a lot of those other things get pushed to the side. We wanted a new identity, we wanted to be a different type of hockey club, and we wanted to make sure that this rink was going to be a tough building to come in and get points out of.’’
Now, the players feel they receive a definite boost from the atmosphere in their home rink.
“Our fans have been unbelievable,’’ said defenseman Cody Franson. “They’re going to be a big part of our having success.’’
Entering Sunday night, the Bruins had won both games in the series in Toronto, the Game 4 decision coming in an overtime thriller.
Doing dirty work
Van Riemsdyk assisted on both goals Sunday night and has been a force for Toronto.
He has two goals and three assists, with one tally coming on his 24th birthday May 4.
Carlyle said van Riemsdyk has made a lot of strides in his young career after developing an understanding of what the Maple Leafs wanted from him vs. the way he was playing in Philadelphia.
“His understanding and our understanding when he first got here probably didn’t align,’’ said the coach. “We felt that he had to change about how he played and where he played and where he was going to make his money.
“We told him he had to camp in front of the net [on the power play] and if he didn’t want to do that, we’d put someone else there.
“From that point, he made the decision he was going to go to the tough areas and make a living there.
“He’s been rewarded for his tenacity, will, and courage to do that. He’s got great hands for a big man.’’
Tyler Bozak, who scored a shorthanded goal in Game 5, was a late scratch for the Maple Leafs. It allowed former Bruin Joe Colborne to make his playoff debut and 17th game overall . . . . . . Veteran forward Joffrey Lupul has 17 goals in 45 playoff games in his NHL career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 10 of those have come in just four games — a four-goal game and a two-goal game for Anaheim in 2006, a two-goal game for the Flyers in 2008, and the two-goal outing for Toronto in Boston during Game 2 of this series . . . One area in which the Maple Leafs are distinctly behind the Bruins is in playoff experience. In Game 1, 10 Toronto players made their Stanley Cup playoff debuts. Three more were newcomers in Game 2.